unexpectedly political values | resurrection

2 04 2015

The resurrection is massively political; there can be no greater political statement than the Christian belief in the physical and bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. Somehow though this has become de-politicized, neutered, made insipid; somehow the resurrection has become like an afterthought, a happy ending tacked on to make the story better that we can ignore if we prefer.

Some of that is from fear. We can talk confidently and politically about Jesus life and ministry, his words about love and peace and justice and money, even about kingdoms; and we can talk of his death, his sacrifice. But his resurrection provokes accusations of insanity, of one step too far; bringing personal irrationally-held beliefs into the public sphere.

resurrection - a metaphor

So it becomes a metaphor. His death becomes just solidarity with suffering; the resurrection just a symbol of hope – the power of ideas – triumphing over adversity. Which is not wrong. But it’s like saying winning the Champions League was a good chance to make the stadium grass look nice. It may be true, but isn’t the point.

The resurrection, as early Christians understood it, means that God cares deeply about creation, his creation, which includes humans and plants and animals and guilt and death and sweat and zero hours contracts and laughter and banking.

The resurrection was God re-creating, making new; taking the stuff that makes life stink, symbolised in Adam and the creation/fall story, and putting it to death, killing it dead, full stop; then re-birthing, re-newing; Jesus Christ as the first-fruit of the new world in which humans and plants and animals and all that are made whole, holy; death defeated, the stink gone, the new come. We live in that world.

The resurrection of Jesus shows sin cannot win. It also shows the pagan Roman empire it cannot win. Jesus is Lord, not Caesar or Herod or capitalism or the economy or ISIS. They can defeat humans, but they cannot defeat the creator and new-creator. When I place my hope in the risen Jesus of Nazareth, I am not embracing a philosophy of kindness, a nice way of life; I am embracing a politics in which local politics comes second-place to God. There’s a challenge.

Here’s another. The resurrection is political because Jesus first appeared to the society’s little people: women, working men, nobody’s. He wasn’t mistaken for a king, but a labourer. Placed at the centre of God’s plan to shake up the powerful are the very people the powerful would ignore.

So the Christian politic has to place them at the centre. It cannot be a politics of dominance, but a politics that embraces prostitutes and adulterers and tax-evaders and wealthy land-owners and poor zero-hours workers and sees the same darkness in all of us, no matter what our status; and promises the same resurrection to all of us, no matter what our status.

The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is an historical truth, not a metaphor; it is deeply political event, not just a happy ending; it is about God transforming this world, not us escaping from it; if we truly understand it, we cannot help but be changed. 

Provocative Resurrection
I wrote this before I read David Cameron’s article with his (very common) misunderstanding of the heart of the Christian message, and this reaction.  

 

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things jesus didn’t say #5 | third

16 04 2014

I will die, and on the third day nothing important will happen.

Of course he didn’t say that. I will die, and on the third day I will rise again. That is what he said. And did. That matters.

thingsjesusdidntsay5third

The same goes for Peter. For Paul. Not the birds. The resurrection is the key.  

The weird thing is, to hear a lot of us speak, and to read our theology (you might know them as songs), it’s like the third day isn’t so important. Especially in the evangelical world, our songs are distinctly lacking in explicit resurrection theology. There are many songs about the blood of jesus, the sacrifice of Jesus, the death of Jesus. But the resurrection?

I recognise that often we use these phrases as a kind of shorthand. When we say we are ‘saved by the death/blood/sacrifice of Jesus’, what we mean is by the death and resurrection of Jesus. The trouble is, shorthand rapidly becomes the norm, and then nobody remembers it’s shorthand. Resurrection needs death before it; death does not need resurrection after it. 

I challenge you to search out contemporary songs for explicit mention of the resurrection. There are a few notable ones that do, but most? They read like loose sacrifice-themed Old Testament-lite: the death of a lamb, the death of Jesus, it’s all the same. No, because Jewish sacrifices a) weren’t God (obviously), but also 2) they did not rise from the dead, bringing future hope into present day.

This Easter my challenge is to re-train our shorthand to talk of the resurrection of Jesus, not his death. Not to take it as a given, because to anyone new to church it certainly isn’t taken as a given. Anyone can claim their hero has died, and in doing so been a motivating influence; but very few claim the bold, the scandalous, the outrageous and the bonkers claim to resurrection.

The third day is not an afterthought, an added extra, after the serious business of Friday and Saturday. Resurrection Sunday is the centre of our faith. It defines who we are. Let’s keep it that way.

Further reading:

From me: The Provocative Resurrection,  The Provocative Resurrection 2: This World Matters, Suffocating the Resurrection

From Ian Paul: Resurrection

Song suggestions:

See What a Morning (Resurrection Hymn)

More Than Conquerers

The Same Power

And finally, a lesson in theology and poetry from the master:

 





i took jesus aside

31 03 2013

It is hard to get across how the disciples really did not know the resurrection was going to happen. This poem is imagining one of them taking Jesus aside on Sunday evening, with questions, concerns and even some anger. It’s meant to be read out loud.  

I took Jesus aside on the night he was resurrected
And lots of things he said to me were almost as unexpected
You see, we were terrified, confused, we’d put ourselves out on a limb
It wasn’t like we’d just decided on a whim
To leave everything
To follow him 

There were bills to pay and jobs to do
And mouths to feed and friends to lose
This mattered, this Jesus, this arrest and this death
This mattered, as all we based our lives upon breathed his final breath 

So come on then Jesus what are we to do?
You came, you went, you’re back again, so now it’s over to you 
We’ve lost our friends, we’re laughing stocks, we can’t really show our faces
Which is why we’re in here with the doors locked hiding in secret places 
Like criminals
Lost-it-alls
How the mighty falls
How the walls have come crashing down 

And Jesus – well, he listened to me as the words came tumbling out 
I found out I was angry as my whisper turned to shout 
But he calmed me with a gentle touch and he looked me in the eye
It was all I could do to stop myself – the touch, it was… it was…

Jesus said 
I know it’s hard, I know its hard to see 
I can’t expect you to get it yet but I can help you to believe 
The first thing that you have to do is lift your head 90 degrees
Because you won’t see anything whilst your staring at your knees 
Lift your head
Lift your head 

When you are staring at the ground below you can’t see very much
And your world shrinks to the size of things that you can touch 
It’s easy when life is tough to find your head is always down
May my resurrection tell you the best place to look is around 

So I took his advice
I mean, I thought twice about that
Because I was enjoying feeling sorry for myself
And being angry was becoming addictive
And his track record of being wrong and ending up dead
Wasn’t something I wanted to follow
But I took his advice and I look around and I looked up
And it was then I saw who he was
I saw what it meant. 

Jesus. 
The boy born in bethlehem
I didn’t know him then
But I know his friends and I’ve heard the stories
Jesus.  
He was never just normal
There was always something special different 
Jesus. 
Not just the first-born of Mary
But the first born of all creation
That he was there before it all began
Jesus. 
That when he talks about he and the father being one
He doesn’t just mean he gets a fuzzy feeling
He means they are actually one
Jesus. 
The image of the invisible God
The God we are not allowed to draw or see
Or even speak his name
We just say YHWH
It’s actually him. 
Jesus. 
Brought low and lifted up
Jesus.
It’s like he was in very nature god
But he did not consider equality with God 
As something to be clutched
But gave himself to be nothing.
Jesus. 
Before my eyes he was arrested and mocked and beaten
All the times we’ve said if only we could see God
And touch him and when finally we could
We killed him. 
Jesus. 
Crucified. 
Shamed, the shame, I flinch to think of the pain, yes
But the shame. 
I look up to see him there
Jesus. 
But he is there no more. 
Jesus. 
The firstborn, the image of God, the equal with God
Crucified.
Risen. 
Resurrected.
Taking us with him when we were so dejected
It was the last thing we expected
After the priest and the Romans wrecked it
Jesus. 
He was lifted up. 
He is lifted up.
He is the king we were expecting
His kingdom it really is coming
He is exalted in the highest of heavens
Jesus. 
Who preached the good news to Israel
Who is good news to the whole world
Man and woman
Slave and free
Disabled and abled
Young and old
Jesus.
Anointed, but hung from a tree
Resurrected, so that we receive forgiveness of sins
Jesus.
He touched me.

Look up, look, look up and see 
Don’t just mumble and look at your feet
It’s Jesus, he is alive, he is alive, he is risen
Look up and discover that we have been chosen
Look up and you’ll see that we all can know him
Jesus.

 I took him aside on the night he was raised 
And though I was angry he wasn’t at all phased 
Lift your head, he said, lift your head up and see
That I’ve been raised from the dead, I am alive.,
Follow me.





a little less sir and little more servant

28 03 2013

Maundy comes from the Latin ‘mandatum’ meaning command. From Jesus command to his disciples at his last supper. To love one another.

There, that wasn’t so hard. Thought I’d throw that in unannounced so you didn’t get scared. Maybe we should call it Servant Thursday. Maundy sounds so…. churchy. Or like a posh Monday. 

Thing is, I’m thinking a lot about national leadership at the moment. Not that I’m planning any kind of coup. But I’m wondering where it is. We have a history in this country of inspirational leaders.  Not always good ones, but inspiring nonetheless. But now? All we get is a constant dribble of badly thought-through reactionary policies, designed more to get headlines than oversee the fair running of a society. And the democratic opposition are hopeless. There’s a power vacuum and it’s being filled by right-wing anti-poor anti-immigrant rhetoric from all sides. Cheap victories. Costly for those on the wrong end of it.  

When was the last time you heard a national leader talk about anything positive. Well, except about being for ‘hard-working people who want to get on’, but we all know that is a sinister sub-text. We live in a age dominated by privileged leaders, an entitlement culture, a clutching rather than a self-giving mentality and the adoration of the shallow. 

This is the time for the church to shine. And not because we are polishing our silverware or bashing our halos together in a holy huddle. But because the world we live in is crying out for servant leaders. They don’t know it, but they’ll know it when they see it. This is why Pope Francis has caught the public imagination. Even the newspapers are so confused they’ve been printing positive stories.

And it’s why I have high hopes for Justin Welby. I know, he’s a former Oxbridge ex-Etonian oil man. But his candour, his honesty, and his focus on Jesus is so encouraging. We need people to speak truth to power confidently, with integrity, with the heart of a servant-leader.

Of course it must start at the local level. We must be servant-leaders, authentic, rooted in Jesus. Giving our power away and helping others to shine. Or helping them scrape the goat turds from between their toes. If jesus can wash feet, so can we. 

We need a little less sir and a little more servant. I probably could have just said that.  

ASBO Jesus

 





the lent sessions // money shop

27 03 2013

Maybe it’s the same where you live. As proper shops go, the money shops arrive. Shops that claim to be able to sell you money at a good rate. This is rarely true. This shop has a poster at the moment. Borrow £100, only pay back £125. When you are in debt and desperate, this is where you end up.SAM_1246_Snapseed

One of the ways we try to understand Easter is to talk about debt. Sin, or the “human propensity to [m]uck things up” (Spufford), puts us into an unpayable debt to God. What religions do is act a bit like a cheque shop. Lend us goodness credits, but we end up only more enslaved. What Jesus did is pay the debt in full. Redeemed the slave.

Maybe this is where only the poor can truly understand it. Only those who are truly in debt, without any capital or property or family to lean on. Maybe only they can understand what it is to be freed from that. 

Next time we pass a cheque shop, a pawnbrokers, or a betting shop, let’s think on the debt they accrue in the most vulnerable. And think how we can bring the resurrection into that reality.

Can you support Christians Against Poverty, or a Credit Union, or the CAB?  





elephant pee

22 03 2013

I walked nervously into the lion’s den that is the year 8 RE lesson. I like the challenge, but as the tyre leaves a skid mark under heavy braking, it comes at a cost. You need a certain robustness of faith – and attitude – to handle the questions that range from the serious to the cynical to the silly. I manage to undermine my own faith with questions about 300 times a day, I don’t need any help from 13 year olds talking about elves and that their friend is really a fish.

What struck me though was the mount of questions about the fantastical, the out-of-the-ordinary. I know it’s to be expected from over-stimulated teenagers with their defences up against the weird religious man talking about Jesus, but nevertheless…

  1. do you believe in ghosts?
  2. can you see into the future with ouija boards?
  3. do you believe in spirits?
  4. my friend believes in poltergeists, do you?
  5. what’s the thing about the rapture?
  6. don’t you believe that at the end there’ll be a huge battle between all demons and angels?
  7. can you see angels?

This was interspersed with various “I don’t believe in God I believe in science”, “I believe in Santa Claus”, “Why do you wear the collar thing?” and a general feeling that I had come from the planet Og to talk about believing in a Fairy-Wizard made of elephant pee. It’s quite a different feeling from Sunday church. It’s another part of the front-line. It’s hard. It’s the place to be. 

my fantastical alter-ego

my fantastical alter-ego

Usually I try hard not to be mundane. But here I felt differently. I said that although it can be fascinating to look to the fantastical, exciting to think about angels and demons and battles and poltergeists, what I wanted them to know about Easter is that it means Jesus is with us through the mundane of everyday life. Because most of life is ordinary, it’s eating and sleeping and sitting in lessons, and that is when Jesus is with us because of Easter, because of the resurrection.

One of the boys asked what the point in life is: we are born, we go to school, we go to work and we die. That is the crux of it. That was possibly the most honest question. Where is God when everything is mundane? Where is God when life has no colour and the music is on mute? He’s not far away in a galactic battle of spiritual powers, he’s not busy moving Victorian candlesticks around the mantlepiece when no-one’s looking, and he’s not as remote as a Fairy-Wizard from Og made of elephant pee.

He was raised from the dead and he is here.

I know it sounds loony, I said. It sounds just as loony to me as to you.  So at least we can agree on that. 

Please pray for people like Sutton Schoolswork who do this sort of thing everyday, in primary & secondary schools. 





empty

8 04 2012

 The building we call church is empty because the church are living the incarnation in the world. The building we call church is empty because the church are living the resurrection in the world. 20120408-224919.jpg

The cross you see is empty because Jesus was the incarnation in the world. The cross you see is empty because Jesus is bringing the resurrection into the world.  Today and every day. 

Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son.
Endless is the victory, thou o’er death has won.





to the unknown god

28 03 2012

I wonder when you last prayed? Was it this morning, that the alarm clock wouldn’t go off, or when you realised you hadn’t done the right homework and would be in even more trouble? Was it a few days ago when you nearly got hit by a car crossing the road in the split-second of blind panic you shoot a prayer like an arrow ‘just in case’ there’s a power up there listening. I take a lot of funerals as part of my job, and most of the people in those families are not church-goers or religious but they believe in God when someone dies. They pray then. 

A couple of weeks ago the Bolton footballer Fabrice Muamba had a heart attack on the pitch, and the response from his team mates and thousands of supporters was what…? To simply wish him well. To write a card? To send him good vibes? To read his star sign to see if it mentions recovering from a heart attack? To tell his family all the bad things religion has done? Or… was it to pray? 

His whole team came out in t-shirts saying ‘pray for Muamba’. Which is fantastic and demonstrates that the doo doo hits the fan we know – we know! – there is something out there, someone out there, someone who might just be able to help. It’s an instinct we have, it’s a connection we have with out creator that even if we have forgotten about, our souls haven’t. 

So when we pray, who do we pray to? A nameless face, a ball of gas, a statue, an idea? Maybe we are praying to a mystery, maybe we are praying to whoever you want God to be? 

I think not. 

I believe that I know who the God is that we pray to. I believe that God isn’t nameless and faceless, that God doesn’t hide away behind the clouds. That God in’t just for certain people at a certain time. And that God isn’t reserved for those who ‘feel’ the spiritual or like to have a fuzzy feeling and say [Darth Vader voice] *The force is strong with you..*.

And I believe God is here.  

My faith is rooted in actual historical events. I believe that the God we pray to in emergencies is revealed to us through Jesus, who is present here by his Holy Spirit. I believe that the man Jesus was actually God, that he actually gave us a face and a name. I believe that God so loved the world – that is, you and me and this earth – that he came to earth as one of us to show us, to be present with us. I believe that he so wants to be in relationship with us that instead of staying far way and hoping one day we’ll discover him for ourselves he came looking for us. 

You see, there is this dividing wall between us and God, it’s what prevents us from being in a relationship with him. God is a God of love and goodness and compassion and every time we don’t live like that, like he does, and all the time we don’t recognise him as God, it’s like a new brick in the wall. Jesus came to break down that dividing wall between us and God. And not just to break it down, but at the same time to transform us so that we might be able to approach God and be in relationship with him. 

Because all that bad stuff we do when we don’t live lives of love and goodness and worship sticks to us like charcoal, makes us dirty. And God is clean, like Morgan Freeman in a white suit in Bruce Almighty. So he makes us clean. When we trust in him, when we follow him, Jesus makes us clean. When he embraces us. We don’t have to be clean before God will embrace us. That is so important. Morgan Freeman’s suit takes on our dirt. We don’t have to be good, fine, sorted, religious to be embraced by God. In fact, it’s because I’m not good, sorted and religious I know I need Jesus. 

That is what happened that first Easter. Jesus took all the bad stuff – we call it sin – on himself, so that we might be holy and be in relationship with God. Paid the price to free the slave. That’s me. You.

This is the God I believe in. A God who came to be with us, who searched us out; a God who answers prayer, who isn’t a nameless and faceless force; a God who is Jesus, who came to break down the wall that divides us and God so that we might live as we were meant to live, in relationship with God who made us and loves us. A God who is personal. A God who shows us love. Love that is real and true and deep, not a love that goes up and down on a tide of emotion like a teenage crush or tugs at the heart strings like the backstories on X Factor. Love, unconditional and unfailing love. 

That is the God I believe in. This is the God to whom we pray. He’s called Jesus, and he is here right now by his Holy Spirit. Do you want to know him? 





an inconvenient love of women

7 03 2012

The Christian Aid logo

Thursday 8th March 2012 is International Women’s Day. According to Christian Aid 70% of the world’s poor are women. It is good that this falls in Lent because it must act as a call to action. Why? 

The primary action at the beginning of Lent for Anglicans is the imposition of ashes. The ashes represent all that is broken and lost in the world, the burnt cross of the execution stake. Because they are smeared and spread on our foreheads, imposed on the most viewed part of us, smudged across our make-up, spoiling our fringe, and sometimes forgotten about until someone says ‘when did you last wash?’

God always wants to remind us to do decent service, not to do decent service. Not to fast whilst we are still slagging off our wives; not to put our feet up whilst the women do the work; not to worship whilst we are spending money other families need more; not to pray in public lest we forget to clothe the naked.

This can be imposition for us. So easily we – and I include me – slip into the kingdom of comfort, feel we’ve done our time in the kingdom of pain. We become desensitised, we get compassion-fatigue or whatever else we call it. We forget to be human and humane and close our eyes to the suffering of all – including women – around us. To remember is an imposition. To be reminded is an inconvenience.

Well, says God, allow me to impose. Allow me to inconvenience you. Because any sort of faith that doesn’t have at its heart God’s care for the exiled, the pained, the tortured, the bereaved and the hurting is no faith I recognise. Any faith that speaks of caring for the poor as if that is a hobby and not a lifestyle is not a faith I recognise. Any faith that doesn’t welcome and truly welcome the strange and the stranger and the strangest is not a faith I recognise. Any faith that turns a blind eye to abuse of women in all its forms is not a faith I recognise. Any faith that denigrates instead of celebrates women is not a faith I recognise. 

Allow me to impose, says God. Because I get religion-fatigue. I can’t be bothered any more. Your religion interests me; I would love to study it sometime. But now, please, for goodness sake get back to basics, strip it down and see what you really need. I think you’ll find it’s me.

I am the poor. You have clothes. And I am naked.  

Whilst you are here, why not check out this campaign from the Home Office called This is Abuse.

This is an edited version of religion-fatigue and the imposition of haberdashery that I wrote back in 2010. I re-read and thought I’d share it again… 





mixed up / passion

22 04 2011

There is power in old stories being told over and over again. With the passion story, there is always something new, something fresh, something living; there is creativity in a story that could decay, there is resurrection in the tomb of death.

But we jump ahead. Today, we re-tell death. Today death has the last word.

Today death has been remixed by my friend Lee. 








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